What would happen if a student at an evangelical Christian college announced that he was gay by posting a notice on a public bulletin board? Ten years ago, he may have been harassed or accused of violating the college’s moral code. But in 2010, when Wheaton College student Benjamin Matthews publicly came out of the closet, the reaction was more subdued.
Matthews said that several other male students came out to him after his revelation, and other students seemed mostly ambivalent. “I don’t think most Wheaton students knew what to do because they’ve been given ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ rhetoric, but they don’t know how that plays out in real life [...] They would mostly just listen, nod, and say, ‘Yeah man, that’s hard’” (CNN Belief Blog).
Wheaton College, an elite evangelical college in the Chicago suburbs, expects its students to live by a strict moral code that prohibits them from having sex outside of marriage, including homosexual activities. But in February, the college approved an official group, Refuge, that serves as a resource for students questioning their sexual identities.
Wheaton isn’t the only conservative school to open up positive dialogue about sexual orientation. As more politicians and religious leaders change their stance on gay marriage and the morality of homosexuality, higher education institutions must follow suit — or risk alienating current and prospective students.
One invaluable resource for LGBTQ students and alumni of conservative Christian colleges is Voiceless, an organization that moderates “dialogue between Christians, the LGBTQ community, and all of us who find ourselves standing awkwardly in between.” Schools that have a chapter in Voiceless include Hope College in Michigan, Ozark Christian College in Missouri, and Brigham Young University in Utah, along with dozens of others.
Colleges must support their students
I attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota, which was founded by Lutheran Norwegian immigrants. Although not an evangelical school, St. Olaf still encourages daily chapel attendance, enforces a dry campus policy and requires all students to take a class that focuses on Bible reading and interpretation.
The school also supports the active GLBTQ community on campus by providing resources for GLBTQ groups, maintaining an open and communicative culture, and hosting events such as the annual Drag Ball, which is attended by large numbers of both gay and straight students. By supporting a diverse community of students, St. Olaf is, for the most part, able to balance its Christian heritage and values with the more liberal social lifestyle of many of its students.
The key for any student to be successful at a college or university is to feel like he or she is accepted. As gay rights continue to progress, evangelical colleges will find that more and more of their students are unwilling to accept such rigid social contracts.
Paul Southwick of the Huffington Post urges GLBTQ students to assert themselves through organized groups to gain respect and support. It is possible to be both gay and Christian, and soon all evangelical colleges will have to come to terms with that fact.
Photo credit: SMBCollege